Five ways to cope
According to the World Health Organization, around 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. It’s possible that a person you’re dating is going through an episode of depression, or they may have been depressed before you committed to a relationship.
It can be difficult to date someone with depression. “Depression can be unpredictable, so many times you cannot plan things for yourself and your partner, as you are not sure what their level of depression will be,” says Nikki Martinez, a psychologist and licensed clinical professional counselor. “You care about this person and want to help, but many times it feels like there is nothing in your control, and you feel helpless.”
However, don’t give up on a great person because of their problems with depression. “It may seem like a lot to deal with, but don’t rule out a potential partner because they live with depression,” says Michelene M. Wasil, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Depression is a treatable issue: usually with medications and/or psychotherapy. People with depression can and often do lead productive, healthy lives.”
There are ways to cope with a depressed partner; here are tips from topnotch experts:
1. Don’t judge your partner: Depression isn’t a situation someone puts himself or herself in. It’s an illness caused by a complex interplay of social, psychological and biological factors. Keep that in mind. “Depression is a treatable illness. It’s not a moral failing or personality defect,” says dating coach Jonathan Bennett. “So, if you’re dating someone with depression, don’t assume the person is just ‘negative’ or ‘a downer.’ Your partner might be clinically depressed and needs help.”
2. Don’t offer therapy: Many people think they can “fix” their partner’s depression. They are setting themselves up for major disappointment. “So, as much as you love your partner, don’t think that you can ‘cure’ your partner of depression by giving advice, being extra sweet, or trying to ‘cheer him or her up’,” says Bennett. “Recognize that the depression isn’t about you. You don’t cause it and can’t cure it.”
3. Be supportive: Although you can’t treat their illness, there are ways you can help your partner in the journey to beat the illness. One of the ways is to listen intently to what they have to say. “Listening is a powerful healing tool, and many people often discount the value of expression,” says Los Angeles-based licensed marriage and family therapist Allen Wagner. “Being there to listen is one of the most valuable things a partner and best friend can do. Don’t put pressure, but don’t be afraid to hear sadness, and be empathetic.” Depressed people won’t always reach out for help, so make it a point to periodically ask if you can be of help to them.
4. Watch out for red flags: People suffering from depression are at a huge risk of suicide. “Be aware of the downward spiral of hopelessness and/or any talk of not wanting to live,” says Wasil. “Know the signs of potential suicidal behavior: giving things away, not speaking in future terms, wishing or pondering of life ending.” Keep the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number handy 1 (800) 273-8255).
5. Educate yourself: If you understand the symptoms of depression, you will be better able to cope with your partner’s illness. “Sometimes, all the person with depression can do is routine things such as go to work and go home. Other times, they may miss work or school because they can’t get out of bed,” says Wasil. “Understand that this is the depression talking – not the person.” Depression is complicated, and different people have a different set of symptoms, so it’s essential to be familiar with the condition.
It’s also important to take care of yourself as you help your partner deal with their mental illness. So, make sure you spend plenty of time with your friends and family. You shouldn’t hesitate from seeking therapy if you feel you are unable to cope with a partner’s mental illness.